Mercedes O'Brien, Cocktail Cart Conductor
Mercedes O’Brien is the curator of all things cocktail at Kevin Gillespie’s Gunshow. From recipe development to costing, O’Brien cultivates cocktails to complement the ever-changing menu at Gunshow.
“For the cocktail development at Gunshow, I draw daily inspiration from the chefs and the team’s personal lives,” says O’Brien.
O’Brien arrived at Gunshow in January 2014 as the restaurant’s cocktail cart conductor and has been educating and entertaining guests by making tableside drinks ever since. “It’s really gratifying because we have the opportunity to explain every cocktail just like the chefs describe each dish. In the traditional bar setting, guests oftentimes don’t want to take a leap to ask questions. But talking about flavor profiles of the drinks at Gunshow creates a big bouncing off of ideas and conversations.”
One of the reasons O’Brien is so adept at discussing the evolution of her drinks with guests is that she has a longstanding love affair with all things culinary. Ever since she was a young child, O’Brien devoured cooking shows and spends most of free time reading cookbooks and food magazines. She worked in various Atlanta restaurants during her college years, including a brief stint as garde manger at H. Harper Station before the owner/mixologist took her under his wing and brought her behind the bar. “I fell in love with it. I started spending more time learning about cocktails than what I was studying in school; that’s where my discipline was directed.”
O’Brien’s earliest interactions with Gillespie led her to create her first, and the most popular, cocktail for the restaurant: the Toasted Old Fashioned (made with bourbon, bitters, burnt sugar syrup, brûléed cinnamon sticks and flamed orange peel).
“Kevin loves cinnamon, and someone had just bought him a cinnamon plant for Christmas,” recalls O’Brien. “So I started thinking about brûléeing cinnamon sticks to play off the way baked Alaska was brûléed tableside on dessert carts. Since an Old Fashioned was the first cocktail I ever learned how to make, I have a strong personal connection to this one.”
Because Gunshow is so food-driven, O’Brien often pulls from her own experiences dining out. “When I experience a unique flavor combination, I try to figure out how I can get it into a cocktail. If one of the Gunshow chefs is serving a Jamaican jerk curry, I’ll create a Jamaican curry cocktail with ginger beer to match it.”
O’Brien lives in the Edgewood/Candler Park area of Atlanta and enjoys thrifting and perusing bookstore shelves when she’s not crafting cocktails. Her guilty pleasure is enjoying a dirty gin martini every Monday.